How To Choose Colors For Logo Design

Arek Dvornechcuck
Branding Expert

I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in NY. I specialize in the development of brands: brand strategy, identity & web design. Need help with your project?—Get in touch

In this article I show you how to choose the right color for your logo—Choosing the right color for a company logo is about as important as choosing the right font.

The colors you use in your branding will evoke emotion and express your brand personality.

Everyone has heard about color psychology—which basically tell us how colors can impact our emotions and behaviors.

When we see the color and a set of impressions can come to us subconsciously.

For example: the yellow color is cheerful and optimistic (your know, the sun is bright and yellow)—That's why Amazon has a yellow smile in their logo.

The green color is all about health and nature (you know grass is green, plants are green)—That's why the Whole Foods logo is green for example.

Famous Brands & Their Colors

Using the right color will stimulate brand association, but not only that—Using the right color can also facilitate differentiation.

For example: a lot of banks use blue in their logos as it is commonly known to evoke trust and stability.

However, TD Bank went with green for differentiation, and so green here can also mean financial growth and prosperity.

By using green and not blue—TD bank logo doesn't blend-in, but it can rather stand out among competitors.

As you can see—using color more deliberately can increase the effectiveness of your brand identity.

Choosing a Logo Color:

  1. Understanding how color works
  2. The psychology of color
  3. Using color for differentiation
  4. Using color for brand architecture
  5. How to choose a logo color
  6. How to create color palettes

In this article you will learn what to consider when choosing the right color for your logo.

First, I will talk a bit about the color psychology, and then I will show you examples of famous brands.

Next, I will explain what’s the process of choosing the colors for your logo.

Then, I will also show you how to choose color palettes for you brand identity.

That way you can master consistency and meaning over a broad range of applications.

PS. Also check out my YouTube video.

1. Understanding how color works

In the sequence of visual perception our brain sees color after it registers a shape and before it reads content.

Choosing the right color for a company logo is about as important as choosing the right font and there is a science behind that—which is called “the sequence of cognition”.

Understanding how colors work

The sequence of cognition is just a fancy way of saying how our brain recognizes and interprets sensory stimuli.

When we look at logos, the brain acknowledges and remembers shapes first.

Then the color comes second, and then lastly we decode words as it takes a bit more time to process the language.

This simply means that if you see logos from far away, or they’re blurred, or you just see them for a millisecond—Then you will recognize distinctive shape first, next you will register color and lastly you will read the brand name.

Therefore, the logo color (besides its shape) can be used as a mnemonic devise—It helps people remember and then identify brands just by the color alone.

For example: When you see a brown truck out of the corner of your eye, you know it is a UPS truck.

Another example would be—when you see someone walking down the street with a little turquoise shopping bag—you know it is a Tiffany bag.

Or when you walk into a store and look at the fridge—you can spot Coca-Cola and its distinctive red label from far away.

As you can tell, we—logo designers are in the business of managing that perception.

That's why brand colors need to be chosen carefully, not only to build brand awareness, but also to express differentiation.

2. The psychology of color

Our response to a color is based on our life experiences and cultural associations, but the meaning of color can change from culture to culture.

Color can trigger an emotion and evoke an association.

However, there are certain rules that can apply globally—Check out this simple image that illustrates the psychology of color:

The psychology of color

Now, let’s discuss each color shortly together with their common uses and some examples of famous brands.

The Meaning of Colors:

Yellow

Yellow is a cheerful and energetic color, it generally evokes positive emotions like happiness or optimism.

Yellow famous logos

That’s why yellow color is commonly used in branding for kids—think of McDonald’s (the fast-food for kids) or Snapchat (the social media for the youth).

However, yellow can be also associated with safety and caution—think of construction signs and brands like Caterpillar or Stanley.

Green

Green is a very fresh and natural color, it often communicates ideas of growth, health, and all-natural qualities.

Green famous logos

And the “natural” and “organic” aspect explain why green is commonly used in the logos of brands like Starbucks or Whole Foods.

However, green can also stand for good luck and financial stability and wealth—for example TD Bank or Quickbooks.

Orange

Orange, as the name suggest is the color of orange (the fruit)—that’s why juice brands like Tropicana use it a lot in their packaging (although their logo is blue for contrast).

Orange famous logos

Because the orange color is so bright, it makes is ideal for traffic barrels, reflective vests, and other safety equipment—that’s why the HomeDepot logo is orange.

Blue

Blue is all about qualities like cleanliness and purity and that’s why we can see so much blue being used in the packaging of the majority of bottled water brands—Think of Fiji or Dasani.

Blue famous logos

Besides water, blue is also associated with sky and fresh air, so therefore it connects to the idea of cleanliness.

That's why so many brands use blue for a pure, almost medical feel—Think of Nivea, or Oral-B.

Blue has also become a very safe, predictable and somewhat conservative color choice for corporate brands because it communicates honesty and loyalty—think of Chase bank, or IBM.

Purple

Purple is often associated with royalty, fantasy, and flowers—That’s why the purple color is used in the Hallmark logo, for example.

Purple famous logos

Because of these associations, purple feels often feminine—think of brands like Always.

Purple color has been also adapted recently as a new trend among media and tech companies—think of Twitch, for example.

Red

Red is often connected to the human body—think of heart, lips, tongue, but also emotions like love and romance.

Red famous logos

In branding, red is often used by healthcare related companies—think of CVS or Wallgreens and this is due to its connection to blood.

Red is also often used by food companies—like Pizza Hut and KFC because red suggests heat or something being hot and it also doubles here as a reference to tomatoes and red sauce.

As you can see—choosing a color for your new identity requires some core understanding of color theory.

3. Using color for differentiation

Besides understanding color theory, you need to also have a clear vision of how the brand can be differentiated from competitors—You can use color to facilitate recognition and build brand equity.

Use a color that can evoke moods & emotions you're trying to convey.

For example, most banks and other brands in financial sector use shades of blue color in their logos—but TD Bank took a different approach and went with green for differentiation in this blue saturated space.

Using color as differentiator

Now let’s discuss each color again but this time in the context of differentiation (and with some examples of course).

Using color for differentiation:

Yellow

The National Geographic logo is yellow but the brand has nothing to do with kids or happiness.

Yellow famous logos

I mean yes you can tie the exploration and traveling with happiness but this is a bit of a stretch.

So in this case yellow is used more for differentiation rather than based on color psychology.

And the yellow framed magazine is so recognizable that the company is able to use just a blank yellow box as their logo!

Green

The green color in branding usually means environmentally and ecologically friendly.

Green famous logos

However, in America, our paper currency is green, so we connect the green color with financial products and services.

That’s why we’ve got some green logos in the financial sector as well: like TD Bank for example or Quickbooks.

Also not all green looks the same, so that dark green with gold works great for Rolex to create that luxurious look & feel.

Orange

The Home Depot has one of the most famous orange logos.

Orange famous logos

The founders said that they chose orange for their branding and specifically for their famous orange aprons because they wanted the salespeople to stand out like beacons within the warehouse-style stores.

Just like a safety cone or vest draws your attention and tells you to be alert, The Home Depot has used that bright orange to bring quick attention to their team members (so they use it for distinctiveness).

Blue

We have way too many blue logos out there, so that blue might NOT be a good choice if you’re looking to differentiate your brand.

Blue famous logos

The blue color became predictable and somewhat a conservative choice for corporate branding.

However, not all blue looks the same so if you move it closer to green or purple you can create a unique color while still making it a safe and likable choice.

Purple

Probably the most well-known purple corporate brand is FedEx.

Purple famous logos

FedEx pairs the purple with other colors including orange, green, blue and red to distinguish their different business divisions.

Taco Bell is an unusual usage of purple in their logo and branding.

Earlier versions of their logo used red, yellow and green to represent meat, cheese and lettuce—the primary ingredients of traditional tacos.

Then Taco Bell introduced its latest purple logo in 2016 and the color was chosen to show their fresh and novel approach to Mexican food.

Red

Many big brands use the red color in their logos just because It feels bold and energetic.

Red famous logos

These brands are not making specific references to blood, health or food, but they recognize that the red color conveys powerful and energetic emotions.

Just think of Coca-Cola, they chose red because it’s an energetic and lively color and they basically managed to own this color in the category.

So as you can see you can use the color either because of its meaning, or because you believe it will make you stand out among competitors (so for differentiation or distinctiveness).

4. Using color for brand architecture

It’s also important to know that while sometimes colors are used to unify an identity, other times the color can be used to differentiate business lines within a company.

Colors can be used functionally to clarify brand architecture.

Just look at the example of FedEx brand architecture below—the orange stands for the high energy and speed of air transportation; the green color stands for ground services; the blue is a corporate color so it was chose for their office division and so on.

Using color for brand architecture

In this case families of color are developed to support a broad range of company's communications needs.

You need to take that into consideration—examine the benefits and disadvantages of:

  1. Using color to differentiate products
  2. Using color to identify business lines
  3. Using color to categorize information

As you can, designers can use color for different purposes: to evoke emotions or associations, to differentiate the company, or to support brand architecture.

5. How to choose a logo color

Now, let me give you some tips on how to choose a color for your logo because color can often be subjective so it can be tricky for designers to work with color.

Select colors that represent moods & emotions you're trying to convey.

A client may arbitrary demand a specific color or reject another based on some irrelevant reasons—So what differentiates professionals from amateurs is the research.

How to choose a logo color

First, you need to do some color research and look for what colors link to your industry.

Next, you need to look at your brand strategy and find colors that will represent the moods and emotions that you’re trying to convey. (Consider color psychology here).

Lastly, you simply need to make a decision as to what color would be the most appropriate for that brand.

For example: In my recent work for Medihuanna, we went with dark green color for the word-mark and a much brighter green for the leaflet symbol (green represents nature).

Then, I also chose complimentary colors: like the beige color for example (which stands for credibility).

Usually, we assign the primary color to the symbol, and the secondary color to the logotype, business descriptor, or a tagline.

But it all depends on the type of logo you have, but in general—try to stick with 1 or 2, max 3 colors for your logo.

And of course there are some brands that break this rule successfully (like Google for example), but for the most part this is a good starting point.

6. How to create color palettes

Besides choosing the primary colors, we can also create color schemes to support a broad range of communications needs.

Choose complementary colors to support the identity system.

While developing your color palettes, it's important test how they work together, and if there is enough contrast between them.

How to create color palettes

You must often test things out to see how the logo can be used on color backgrounds—for example: can you reverse the colors? (Is there enough contrast between them).

Or perhaps you should keep your logo in just a solid color, for example—always solid white logo is used on color backgrounds (like in my logo example above).

It often comes down to testing you designs and then adjusting colors to find the right combination that works for you best (You can use color palette generators in this step).

Simply play with the different color values like the hue, saturation, shade and so on—until you arrive on something that looks good.

Yet another important consideration here is the reproduction of colors—meaning, will the colors look good in digital as well as in print?

For example: if your brand is primarily digital (like Twitch for example) you might want to go with a very bright and distinct purple.

Which is a color from RGB space, but it probably wouldn’t look as consistent in print—as it is not available in CMYK color space.

So as you can see, color is affected by various reproduction methods—that's why we need to always test them out.

Just remember—Every logo designer’s challenge is to unify colors across all media: packaging, printing, signage, and digital—so that the logo always look consistent, no matter where it is being used.

Conclusions

Color is an important consideration when in comes to designing logos and every designer needs make an informed decision and be able to explain the choices.

Color is a very powerful branding tool—you use it with purpose.

Although it can be a bit difficult to choose the right color for your logo—Especially, if you insist on something because it looks cool, not because it's right for the business.

The Meaning of Colors

For example—If you, as a designer, describe the logic for using a certain color as ""nice" it is the probably the first step to rejection and disagreement.

On the other hand—If you can explain that you chose this specific color because it communicates, for example: “optimism” and “warmth” and this is based on associations from 10,000 years of human culture—this may lead to client’s approval.

PS. Learn how to present your logos and explain your design choices in my other article.

Finally, the color you choose for you logo needs to be appropriate, it needs to evoke a certain emotion.

It needs to be distinctive, so that it can be remembered—people can link this color to your brand.

What's the best color for your brand?—Perhaps the best case scenario is owning a color in your category.

However, it's increasingly hard to truly own a color, just like Tiffany or UPS does.

It usually requires an enormous amount of money spent on marketing, so that people can start recognizing you for just the color alone.

Ultimately, finding the right color for your logo depends on what associations you want to create and how can you differentiate your brand.

7 Questions to answer when choosing a color for your logo:

  1. What do you want the color to communicate?
  2. Is the color differentiated from that of competitors?
  3. Will the color support your brand strategy?
  4. Can you achieve consistency across media?
  5. What background colors are possible?
  6. Does the color system support brand architecture?
  7. Can the color be legally protected?

Logo designer is the ultimate arbiter for setting the right color for a company's logo.

There's so much more that can be said about colors—If you want to learn more, then check out the book: “The Designer's Dictionary of Color" (I also interviewed the author—Sean on my podcast).

"The Designer's Dictionary of Color"—book by Sean Adams.

I hope this article brought you some light to the subject of color and its importance when it comes to logo and identity design.

Let me know what you think: How do you use color in branding?—just leave a comment below.

Looking for a custom logo for your business?—Just send me an email.

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